Kpopmap Reviews: Netflix’s Latest Original “The Sound Of Magic” Is A Modern Fairy Tale For The Aching Soul
“Do you believe in magic?“, asks a mysterious shadowy figure behind the screen, and before we can respond with conviction, we’re drawn into a world of dreamy adventures, risky rendezvous, and a cathartic coming-of-age that speaks to the inner child in all of us. This is “The Sound Of Magic” and we’re every bit as enchanted as we were promised.
Starring Ji ChangWook, Choi SungEun, and Hwang InYoup in the leading roles, “The Sound Of Magic” is a fantasy musical melodrama that leaves you questioning the very essence of reality, or the lack thereof. The series is based on a webtoon called “Annarasumanara” by Ha IlKwon and wonderfully echoes the unpredictable thrill of the same as we’re taken on a vicarious journey of change, transformation, and acceptance.
Choi SungEun plays Yun AhYi, the protagonist of the story who is constantly undone by the world of adults. Abandoned by her mother at a young age and once again by her father later on, AhYi is the only guardian to herself and her younger sister. Despite stretching herself thin, no amount of part-time jobs is enough to provide for the family of 2. While she’s fully aware of her financial inability to go to college, she refuses to give up on her education and is actually one of the best students in her class, second only to Na IlDeung.
Na IlDeung, played by Hwang InYoup, comes from a family of affluence, wealth, and power. His father is a Chief Prosecutor who exercises immense control over IlDeung, setting his future in stone (or asphalt) without any regard for his preferences. The boy has obsessive tendencies stemming from stress and anxiety, which lead him to scratch the back of his neck raw but that too is ignored in favour of his grades. The financial plentitude AhYi can only dream of, is a curse to IlDeung, holding him back from realizing his true desires.
These shackles imprisoning AhYi and IlDeung in their inferno are expelled when they meet RiEul, a strange, enigmatic magician, played by Ji ChangWook. RiEul lives in a forsaken amusement park, symbolic of innocence that is given up on, and by the end of the story, finds a permanent home in our hearts. His only purpose in life is to share the joy he finds in magic and bring hope to the cold world around him, but he is shunned by society at large for disturbing the status quo. From rumours about his insanity to criminal suspicions, the world does not, or rather cannot, allow RiEul to exist freely. He counters this collective disbelief with even more mysticism, determined to open our eyes to the truth. This mission is reflected in his very name: “RiEul”, pronounced “real” in a wonder of poetic symbolism, which further extends to AhYi (meaning “child”) and Na IlDeung (meaning, “I’m Number 1”). IlDeung represents RiEul as he once was (Ryu MinHyuk), and AhYi is who he wanted to be. With these bright young kids on the verge of losing their faith in the universe, RiEul appears to them as a reminder that the flame of magic lies quietly within; all you need to do is let it breathe.
AhYi’s relationship with RiEul is one of constant oscillation between trust and denial, attachment and dismissal. She wants to believe in his magic but is forced to decide against it by the premature adult rationale knocking at her psyche. In one moment, she indulges in the mesmerism of RiEul’s world, and in the next, she jolts herself awake out of guilt. The complex back and forth takes a toll on her identity until she finally gives in to the dreams she left behind. On the other hand, it is much simpler (although not easier) for IlDeung to believe in RiEul, solely because he can afford to do so.
Through trials, tribulations, and tests, AhYi completes her transformation into the magician, and RiEul disappears into the void. However, the question remains: was RiEul’s magic indeed real? Now, addressing the elephant in the room is more complicated than one might think. Setting the rose-tinted glasses aside, it is easy to see how RiEul’s existence can be deferred to AhYi’s imagination. It is almost as if AhYi creates RiEul out of a need to reclaim her lost childhood, which is why RiEul is a magician in the first place (AhYi dreams of becoming a magician as a child). As she begins to stand in her own power, it inspires IlDeung in turn. Following a time skip, we see AhYi and her family flourishing in togetherness, indicating that things were going to turn out alright anyway but without the touch of “magic” to keep her going, perhaps she wouldn’t have seen this day.
While this is the grown-up interpretation, one cannot just do away with the spectacular fantasy this show has to offer. From the untimely snowfall to the magical butterflies, not everything has to be a metaphor! RiEul’s backstory substantially posits him as the “chosen one” who has awakened to the mysteries of the world. It is up to him to make us believe, and even though he often resigns to simple tricks, true magic is forever at play. RiEul is not an omnipotent, all-knowing being, he is simply enlightened enough to harness the power of faith.
Ji ChangWook does such an incredible job at portraying the childlike vulnerability in RiEul contrasted by his overwhelming confidence that you cannot help but get spirited away. This is by far one of Ji ChangWook’s finest works of all time and speaks volumes of his versatility as an artist. His performance is complemented magnificently by Choi SungEun’s layered portrayal of AhYi and the nuanced brilliance of Hwang InYoup as IlDeung. In particular, Hwang InYoup deserves special kudos for meticulously bringing to life a character whose very existence is drawn as a symbol (in the webtoon, IlDeung is perceived as a handsome boy, but his comically elongated face is a mark of arrogance). A cast like this truly comes along once in a lifetime.
Finally, we cannot possibly conclude without due appreciation of the music. While musicals can be a bit of a hit or miss, especially in long-format works, “The Sound Of Magic” incorporates them so seamlessly into the narrative that they amplify the immersion manifold. The dreamlike sequences are out of this world, especially when accompanied by the songs, most of which now live rent-free in my head. The series successfully strikes a delicate balance between music and magic, creating an iconic blend that is as unique as it gets and we just can’t get enough.
At the end of the day, “The Sound Of Magic” is to its viewers what RiEul is to AhYi and IlDeung: respite, reassurance, and a breath of fresh air. This is an experience we didn’t know how desperately we needed and I couldn’t be more thankful to the cast, crew, and creators of “The Sound Of Magic” for bringing it to us.
What did you think of “The Sound Of Magic”? Share your thoughts with Kpopmap in the comments section down below!